Kurt Papenfus, a health care provider within the small city of Cheyenne Wells, Colo., began to really feel sick round Halloween. He developed a scary cough, intestinal signs and a headache. Within the midst of a pandemic, the information that he had COVID-19 wasn’t stunning, however Papenfus’ sickness would have repercussions far past his personal well being.
Papenfus is the lone full-time emergency room physician within the city of 900, not removed from the Kansas line.
“I am chief of employees and medical director of every thing at Keefe Memorial Hospital at present in Cheyenne County, Colo.,” he stated.
Simply 62 individuals within the county have been identified with COVID-19, in keeping with Colorado’s coronavirus information web site.
With Papenfus sick, the hospital scrambled to discover a alternative. As coronavirus instances in rural Colorado, and the Japanese Plains particularly, surge to unprecedented ranges, Papenfus’ sickness is a check case for the way the pandemic is affecting the delicate rural well being care system.
“He’s the principle man. And it’s a very giant problem,” stated Stella Worley, CEO of the hospital.
If she could not discover somebody to fill in whereas he was sick, Worley might need to divert trauma and emergency sufferers practically 40 miles north to Burlington.
“Time is life generally,” she stated. “And that’s not one thing you ever wish to do.”
“The ‘rona beast is a really nasty beast”
As deaths from the coronavirus have surpassed 250,000 within the U.S., new information present the pandemic has been notably deadly in rural areas — it is taking lives in these areas at a charge reportedly practically 3.5 instances larger than in metropolitan communities.
Papenfus, a energetic 63-year-old, was discharged after a nine-day keep at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Denver, and he was wanting to sound the alarm concerning the illness he calls the ‘rona.
“The ‘rona beast is a really nasty beast, and it isn’t enjoyable. It has a really imply mood. It loves a combat, and it likes to preserve coming after you,” Papenfus stated.
He is not positive the place he picked it up however thinks it might need been on a visit east in October. He stated he was meticulous on the airplane, sitting within the entrance, final on, first off. However on touchdown at Denver Worldwide Airport, Papenfus boarded the crowded practice to the terminal, and shortly alarm bells went off in his head.
“There are individuals actually like inches from me, and we’re all crammed like sardines on this practice,” Papenfus stated. “And I am going, ‘Oh my God, I’m in a superspreader occasion proper now.’ “
An airport spokeswoman declined to remark about Papenfus’ expertise.
Per week later, the signs hit. He examined constructive and determined to drive himself the three hours to the hospital in Denver. “I am not going to let anyone get on this automotive with me and get COVID, as a result of I do not wish to give anyone the ‘rona,” he stated. County sheriff’s deputies adopted his automotive to make sure he made it.
As soon as within the hospital, chest X-rays revealed he’d developed pneumonia.
“Dude, I did not get a faucet on the shoulder by ‘rona, I obtained an enormous viral load,” he texted a reporter, sending photos of his chest scans that present giant, opaque, white areas of his lung. Only a week earlier, his chest X-ray was regular, he stated.
Again in Cheyenne Wells, Dr. Christine Connolly picked up a few of Papenfus’ shifts, though she needed to drive 10 hours every approach from Fort Value, Texas, to do it. She stated the hospital employees is unfold skinny already.
“It is not simply the docs, it is the nurses, you already know. It is laborious to get spare nurses,” she stated. “There’s not plenty of spares of something out that far.”
Moreover himself, one other six staff — out of a employees of 62 at Keefe Memorial — additionally not too long ago obtained a constructive check, Papenfus stated.
Hospitals on the Plains typically ship their sickest sufferers to larger hospitals in Denver and Colorado Springs. However with so many individuals across the area getting sick, Connolly is getting apprehensive hospitals may very well be overwhelmed. Well being care leaders created a brand new command system to switch sufferers across the state to make extra room, however Connolly stated there’s a restrict.
“It is harmful when the hospitals within the cities replenish, and when it turns into an issue for us to ship out,” she stated.
“Bank robbers put on masks on the market”
The impression of Papenfus’ absence stretches throughout the Japanese Plains. He normally labored shifts an hour to the northwest, at Lincoln Group Hospital in Hugo. Its CEO, Kevin Stansbury, stated the city principally dodged the spring surge and his facility might absorb recovering COVID-19 sufferers from Colorado’s cities. Now, Stansbury stated the virus is reaching locations corresponding to Lincoln County, inhabitants 5,700. It has had 144 instances, in keeping with state information, and neighboring Equipment Carson has had 301. Crowley County to the south, which is house to a privately managed state jail, has had 1,239 instances. It’s far and away the No. 1 most affected county per capita within the state.
“So these numbers are enormous,” Stansbury stated. He stated as of mid-November a few half-dozen hospital staffers had examined constructive for the virus; they suppose it is unrelated to Papenfus’ case.
Lincoln Group Hospital is prepared as soon as once more to take recovering sufferers. Funds in rural well being care are all the time tight, and accepting new sufferers would assist.
“We now have the employees to try this, as long as my employees would not get ravaged with the illness,” Stansbury stated.
Rural communities are notably susceptible. Residents are likely to endure from underlying well being circumstances that may make COVID-19 extra extreme, together with excessive charges of cigarette smoking, hypertension and weight problems. And Brock Slabach of the Nationwide Rural Well being Affiliation stated 61% of rural hospitals would not have an intensive care unit.
“That is an unprecedented scenario that we discover ourselves in proper now,” Slabach stated. “I do not suppose that in our lifetimes we have seen something like what’s growing by way of surge capability.”
A few hours east of Cheyenne Wells, COVID-19 not too long ago hit Gove County, Kan., laborious.
The county’s emergency administration director, the native hospital CEO and greater than 50 medical employees examined constructive. In a nursing house there, many of the greater than 30 residents caught the virus; six have died since late September, in keeping with The Related Press. A county sheriff ended up in a hospital greater than an hour from house, combating to breathe, as a result of lack of area on the native medical middle.
Papenfus fretted about his house county and its odds of combating off the virus.
“The western prairie is not masks nation,” he stated. “Folks do not put on masks on the market; bank robbers put on masks on the market.” He’s urging Coloradans to remain vigilant, calling the virus an existential menace. “It is an enormous wake-up name.”
Since being launched from the hospital, Papenfus has had a rocky restoration. His spouse, Joanne, drove him again to Cheyenne Wells, sporting an N95 masks and gloves, whereas he rode within the again on oxygen, coughing by means of the three-hour drive.
As soon as again at house, Papenfus hunkered down, with the occasional journey exterior to hang around along with his pet falcon.
However every week after going house, he began having nightly fevers. He had a CT scan accomplished at Keefe Memorial, the hospital the place he works. It revealed pneumonia in his lungs, so he went again to Denver, getting readmitted at St. Joseph’s Hospital. This time, Papenfus arrived by way of ambulance.
Discovering a alternative for Papenfus at Keefe has been laborious. The hospital is working with providers that present substitute physicians, however nowadays, with the coronavirus roaring throughout the nation, the competitors is fierce.
“They’re actually scrambling to get protection,” Papenfus texted from his hospital mattress. “Entire county cannot await my return however this sickness has actually taken me down.”
He stated he was now at Day 35 from his first signs, mendacity in his hospital mattress in Denver, “questioning once I’ll ever get again.” Papenfus famous that COVID-19 has affected his crucial pondering and that he’d should be cleared cognitively to return to work. He stated he is aware of he will not have the bodily stamina to get again to full obligation “for some time, if ever.”